Who is You?
Every minute, about 28 people become victims of identity theft. All ages can fall victim to identity theft but senior citizens remain attractive targets for identity thieves to exploit.
Identity theft is a serious crime. It occurs when someone uses your personal identifying information without your knowledge to commit fraud and other crimes. The thief may not always be a stranger, almost half of identity theft victims believe they knew who their imposter was. Although it may be a stranger it can also be a neighbor, an acquaintance or even a family member.
There area actually two types of identity theft. The first is an "account takeover" in which the thief acquires existing account information and gain access to your bank accounts or credit cards to make purchases. The second is "application fraud" which occurs when the thief uses your social security number or other personal information to fraudulently open new credit accounts in your name.
Application fraud may go unnoticed by the victim for an extended period of time making it harder to catch the thief and to clear up the damage done.
The personal information that thieves want most are: Social Security number, drivers license number, credit card information, bank account information, mother's maiden name or any other information that helps an imposter pretend to be you. Thieves can attempt to get this information from you through email or phone contact or from information you throw away in your garbage or from an unlocked mail box.
Here are a few tips to keep your personal information safe from thieves:
Do not carry your Social Security card or Medicare card in your wallet or purse unless you know you will need it that day.
Do not have your Social Security number on your Drivers License
Remove "extra" information from your personal checks, avoid giving out your SSN, date of birth, or phone number to a merchant.
Never store account numbers and passwords or pin numbers together.
Never give out your credit card number or other personal information over the telephone unless you initiated the call.
Be sure to shred all documents that contain personal information before throwing them away.
Place outgoing mail in secure mail boxes
Watch for signs of identity theft:
Calls or mail from debt collectors or businesses about things you didn't buy.
Carefully review all bank and credit card statements
Obtain a copy of your credit report on an annual basis. Everyone is entitled to receive one free report per year. Simply go to www.annualcreditreport.com or by calling 877-322-8228 (1-877-fact act) to request a copy of your credit report.
If your identity is stolen, file a police report and obtain a copy of the written report. Contact the North Dakota Attorney General's office at 1-800-472-2600. Immediately contact the three credit reporting agencies.
If the theft is on existing accounts, notify your bank or credit issuer immediately and in writing. Change your account passwords and have new account numbers issued for credit cards.
All correspondence concerning identity theft should be in writing and sent by certified mail. Keep a log of all conversations and copies of all letters.
Always ask to speak to a fraud investigator when contacting credit agencies. If a debt collection agency is contacting you, get their name, address and phone number as well as the name and contact information of the agency they are collecting for in addition to the amount, account number and dates of charges. Advise them that you are a victim of identity theft and you are not responsible for the debt.
Being a victim of identity theft can have a wide range of effects depending on the severity of the theft. Your best defense is to be on the offense and take precautions to minimize your risk of identity theft.
Lori Scharmer is an extension agent with NDSU ?Extension Service, Ward County.